As someone who's read her most emotionally vulnerable-not to mention grammatically questionable-poetry to rooms full of strangers, Sara Bynoe doesn't embarrass easily. But the actor, editor, and writer reddens just a little when she discusses a recent trip to Seattle in honour of her onetime hero, Kurt Cobain.
"We went to his house," says Bynoe, sitting at the JJ Bean coffee shop on Main Street. "I said, 'I'm going to check it out.' Everyone was like, 'You're a loser [to visit the scene of Cobain's death],' and I said, 'I don't care; this is going to be fun.'" It was also kind of creepy, she recalls. "But I owed it to my 14-year-old self to go and check it out."
As the editor of Teen Angst: A Celebration of Really Bad Poetry (St. Martin's Press, 2005) and overseer of TeenAngstPoetry.com, the 25-year-old Calgary native knows her inner adolescent better, perhaps, than anyone this side of Tom Green. She's been reliving her own high-school torment, along with other people's, ever since she rediscovered some poems an ex-boyfriend had written her. Laughing at the purple verse "like a mean girl would", she decided it was only fair to dredge up her own teenage scrawlings (450 poems written between 1990 and 1998). If anything, many of these were even more side-splittingly inept than her ex's. For example: "My heart did not leave/You took my heart/You are the thieve [sic]".
And so, six years ago with the help of her brother David, a Web site was born-as was a cottage industry. Besides the first anthology, there are plans for two more books: The Ultimate Collection of Angst and A Collection of Twenty-Something Angst. According to her Web site, the latter may include such topics as "student loans", "turning into your parents", and other sources of anxiety to which Bynoe and those in her age group can relate.
"I don't even have a BFA," she says. "I went to Studio 58 [at Langara College], which is a diploma course. Ooh, a diploma. What the fuck is that going to get me? I see it. I live it. I have a good sense of humour about it, and I'm not doing so bad."
In January, the theatre grad's association with teen poetry led her to appear in Bad Grad, a Calgary stage production based on the idea of high-school students reading their work. And she's currently penning a musical inspired by the self-pitying verse of those troubled years. (She refuses to publish poetry by actual teens, not wanting to ridicule anyone who might have sent her something they'd written without realizing the Web site's satirical purpose.)
Nor is Bynoe alone in her fascination with what she calls "self-deprecating, embarrassing memorabilia".
"There's a culture emerging around it, turning it into a weird art form," she says. Among the other culprits are Found, a Michigan-based magazine that collects and publishes assorted found items, and Group Hug, a Web site where people can anonymously post secrets and confessions (i.e., "I want to kill my parents," and "When I was in my early teen years I got addicted to call [sic] sex lines").
Others have taken Bynoe's lead by transforming people's most naked outpourings into performance art. Organizers of Get Mortified, a Los Angeles-based theatre series devoted to "personal redemption through public humiliation" (according to its Web site), even saw fit to invite our young unofficial ambassador of awfulness to a recent show.
Over the past couple of years, Bynoe has presented her own similarly themed events both here and in Calgary. Her latest endeavour is Teen Angst: A Retro Comedy Night, on Friday (March 31) at the Annex (307 West Cordova Street). Not just bad poetry but other embarrassing emissions, such as journal entries and song lyrics, will be featured, along with a DJ spinning tracks from the '80s and '90s (perhaps the peak of teen-angst culture). Most of the performers at her shows are local actors, writers, and musicians-people used to embarrassing themselves. But once in a while, a breakout star emerges from the firmament.
"It gives me these warm fuzzies when someone like a dental hygienist gets up and says, 'Okay, I wrote this”¦,' and they do it great. I've never seen anyone do a bad job of it. If they're laughing at themselves it's contagious, and we all enjoy it."
So far Bynoe hasn't burned out on bad poetry, partly thanks to other creative outlets; last summer she starred in a play she'd written, Sparkle Bunny: The Last Raver Dancing, at the Vancouver and Victoria Fringe festivals. Besides, being the bad-poetry goddess is still a pretty good gig.
"It's fun, and I can step back and take more of a producer role now," Bynoe explains. "It's interesting that way, where it's not my sole creation. But there are still ideas and projects I've dreamt up that I still want to see to fruition”¦.It seems like my art, per se, for the moment is a lot of self-deprecating-humour stuff-teaching people to laugh at themselves and not take things so seriously. That's okay; that's something I can stick with my whole life."